Sea Turtles of the United States include the green turtle, the hawksbill, the
loggerhead, the Atlantic ridley and the Pacific ridley. They are found in the
warmer waters of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. In summer they are occasionally
seen off the northern shores of the United States. No one really knows how long
sea turtles live.
Sea turtles swim by means of powerful paddle-shaped flippers. Their manner of
swimming is different from that of freshwater turtles. Instead of alternating their
strokes, sea turtles raise and lower both front flippers at once, like birds in
flight. The paddle-shaped hind legs are used for steering or, spread sideways, for
All marine turtles have suffered from exploitation by man. They are hunted for their
shells and flesh; they have been accidentally killed in fish nets; and much of their
nesting habitat has been lost to them. International recognition of their endangered
status resulted in their being listed under the Convention on International Trade
in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. This listing prohibits the commercial
trade of all sea turtles. The United States legally protects only three species---the
hawksbill, the leatherback and the Atlantic ridley.
The best known of the sea turtles is the green turtle, (pictured below), a very
streamlined creature with a head too large to be tucked into its shell. It is a medium-sized
to large turtle, sometimes weighing 600 pounds or more. The shell color can be olive-green,
brownish, or bluish-black. The green comes from the color of its fat.
Green turtles differ from other marine turtles in that they occasionally climb out of the water
to bask in the sun on remote and uninhabited islands. Most of their daylight hours are spent grazing
underwater on large beds of turtle grass. It was recently discovered that one subspecies of the green
turtle hibernates at the bottom of the sea during the winter months.
Courtship takes place in waters just off the nesting beaches, and there is a good deal of fighting
among the males at this time. Mating takes place as the turtles float on the surface of the water. It is
believed that this mating does not fertilize eggs that the female is about to lay, but rather those eggs that
will be laid in the next two or three years. Green turtles lay eggs only every other year or every third
year. But in one season the female will lay eggs from three to seven times, with about twelve days between
each trip to the beach. About a hundred eggs are usually laid at a time.
Climbing ashore is difficult for the green turtle because of her great weight and the fact that her limbs are
adapted for swimming rather than walking. She climbs above the high-water mark, scoops out a nest, lays her eggs,
and then fills the remaining cavity with sand. Afterwards, she scatters sand in every direction so the nest
location won't show.
Green turtles have been especially hard hit by flesh and egg hunters. They were once kept alive on board
ship to supply fresh meat on long voyages. Since they cannot turn themselves over if they are placed on
their backs, they were kept belly-up until they were needed for food. Now, United States conservationists
are making great efforts to save these gentle, harmless creatures. Commercial turtle farmers are
fighting their protection under the Endangered Species Act because they want to continue to take green
turtle eggs from the wild.